Nintendo's new console is just three days old and already one of the most controversial creations the company has ever produced. The Wii U is better than you may have heard, but it's in some ways worse. It's also changing. Constantly. And mostly for the better.
Just as new issues are being discovered some of its problems are already being addressed.
The state of the Wii U seems likely shift day by day. Here on day three, here's what's going right, what's going wrong, and what needs to change.
- There are lots of games. There are more than two dozen at launch, which is a healthy amount for a new console. Just look at this bunch… not too bad:
- There are several very good launch games. New Super Mario Bros. U, Nintendo Land and ZombiU are all very fun. There are so many games, in fact, we've yet to be able to spend a lot of time with some of the potentially interesting titles like Scribblenauts Unlimited or the apparently-improved Ninja Gaiden 3.
- The GamePad controller is light, comfortable and useful. It turns out you can add a six-inch screen to a twin-stick console controller and you wind up with a better device, one that, at minimum, makes map and inventory displays bigger and more accessible.
- The Miiverse is amusing and handy. Nintendo's promising new social network functions as a message board for any of the system's games and apps but also functions as a handy source of advice if you're stuck in the middle of a game. Just screencap where you're stymied, multi-task your way to loading the Miiverse, post you screen and a query, go back to playing and, inevitably, someone will answer with a tip-and you'll be able to know if they had played the game, to boot. Posting in Miiverse is moderated after the fact, so fears of delays in message-posting have proven unfounded. Moderation may be heavy-handed (we have too few examples to make a judgment), but we can confirm that users are being creative within the confines Nintendo allows. Go to any Miiverse page and you'll see as much.
- Also, after a Sunday of instability, Miiverse seems to be staying online. A rep for Nintendo told Kotaku: "Due to an overwhelming response from the public on Miiverse, the servers supporting this feature went down. The service is now functioning normally." The company also claims that what appeared to be a hack of Miiverse on Sunday was actually a case of a user accessing a "mock-up menu" in the service. Nintendo says that the menu "has now been removed and is not accessible."
- The eShop needs work, but already rivals its console competitors. Nintendo's online store on the Wii was slow and confusing. Its DSi shop wasn't much better. The 3DS one was a step up. The Wii U one is actually good. You navigate it on the GamePad's touchscreen, which makes reading the listings and tapping through the menus a cinch. Better still, most of the launch games, including a few download-only titles, were available for purchase on day one. The system saves credit card info, though it could use a shopping cart and a purchase history display.
- Wii transfer worked well. Moving content from an old Wii to a new Wii U is easy and is accompanied by an adorable animation. The Wii U emulates the Wii and keeps old Wii content relevant. There's a flip-side to this, though… see below.
- The WaraWara plaza is already evolving. On day one, the Mii-filled plaza you see on your TV when you turn on your Wii U was just showing Nintendo-made Miis and the Miis on a user's friend list. But last night, Nintendo switched things, and the plaza now features clusters of Miis representing players who have commented on various games on the Miiverse. In the center of this ring of players are the user's Miis and those of their friends. Speech balloons can pop up from any of these Miis, which pretty much means that the first thing you'll see when starting the Wii U isn't an ad nor a publisher-created image of a game. What you'll likely see are the ideas and opinions of Wii U gamers. As a result, when I'm booting up my Wii U, I'm seeing people troubleshoot Black Ops II headset support, rave about Nintendo Land, grumble about IGN's review of ZombiU. This isn't buried. This is how the system is welcoming me. It's an extraordinary gesture on Nintendo's part to put the voices of its users on the launch screen of the console.
I even saw someone making a Virtual Boy joke.
- The super-slow OS is worrisome. A console powerful enough to run Assassin's Creed III and Mass Effect 3 should not struggle and take 20 seconds to go from its system menu to its system settings app. It should not take 15 seconds to close a game and go back to the main menu. This kind of tardy performance was barely tolerable on the Wii in 2006. It's worse on the Wii U and desperately needs improvement. But when I asked Nintendo if they could or would make this better through a firmware update a rep said that the company had nothing to announce at this time.
- Controller sync problems abound. The most common complaint we've seen from readers about Wii U functionality is that they can't get the GamePad or Wii Remotes to sync to the console. We've fielded a couple of complaints per day on Twitter and in e-mail. This is not a plague, but it is the most common malfunction we've heard. Users either need to wait a long, long time for the sync to take or they have to trade their system in. We can say that we've had no problems on our team's three Wii Us.
- The Wii emulation hides all the Wii content (and your money). It's nice that the Wii U can pretend to be a Wii. It's disappointing that it keeps all of a user's Wii content, including Virtual Console games, inside the app that puts the Wii U in a Wii emulation mode. This would not be as big a bummer if the Wii app loaded quickly, but as with all other system apps, it takes its time. It's also worrisome if this signals that Nintendo won't let Wii-purchased VC games be moved to the main menus of the Wii U. And if Nintendo has the audacity to make people pay for those games again… just to have them on the Wii U menu? Let's hope they're not considering that. Sadly, any unspent money in the Wii's shop stays in the wallet held in the Wii U's Wii shop. The money doesn't transfer to the Wii U's eShop where Wii U games are sold.
- The GamePad screen lacks multi-touch. As good as the GamePad is for games, its lack of multi-touch control makes the system's web browser feel archaic. Using control sticks and tilt as well as single touch is a poor substitute to modern touch-screen web-browsing standards. Good thing no one's buying the Wii U for web-browsing.
- Slow, mandatory installs are another drag. The Wii U is a system that makes its users wait too much. It's nice that eShop purchases download in the background by default, but, as is the case on PlayStation 3, downloaded games must be manually installed. The system can't do anything else during installation. No problem, if the installation is fast. It's not. The 2GB Trine 2 required a 17-minute installation. Smaller games required a proportionately smaller amount of time.
- Patch-nation. The Wii U simply requires too much downloading and updating. Buy the system, take it home, wait an hour while a patch downloads so you can use half of the machine's advertised features (otherwise: no online, no Miiverse, no Wii compatibility, no Netflix, no eShop). Pop in any game that uses online features? It needs a patch too. Nintendo needs to ship consoles that are patched ASAP. And it would be nice if the system, which knows which games you have once you pop them in, would start pulling down patches while I'm not using the console. The PS3 can do this; so should the Wii U.
- Nintendo Network ID migration needs to be added. It's nice that Nintendo has created an account-based system to track online purchases and to save a user's profile. This is a great improvement from their old tricks of locking people's purchases to a machine and forcing people to re-buy games if they got a new console. The Wii U launches with a promise from Nintendo that Nintendo Network IDs will be transferable from one machine to another-just not yet. For now, you're stuck with the ID on the first Wii U that you register it to. Although… when asked about when migration would be permitted and about user concern that, should their Wii U break, they'd lose access to their ID, a rep for Nintendo said, via e-mail: "Anyone who experiences any issues with a Wii U console can troubleshoot at http://support.nintendo.com or contact 800-255-3700." Perhaps Nintendo tech knows something about how to migrate NNID's that we don't.
- Friend requests are confusing. Nintendo promised that the Wii U, in ditching the Wii's notorious friend code system, would make adding friends on the new console easy. But friend requests only seem to pop up if people send you the request via Miiverse. You get an alert. You can choose to accept the friend request. But it seems that if you are friended via the Wii U's actual friend request app, you don't get an alert. You have to friend the person yourself to discover they did the same. So you have to communicate in real life, as you did with friend codes. That's weird. Nintendo needs to have a consistent friend request system in their console.
- GamePad battery life is wretched. The GamePad needs charging every few hours. It's best used wired, plugged into the wall. As soon as possible, Nintendo needs to get a better battery in this thing.
It's good to see that the Wii U was packed with ambition. It's understandable that in reaching further on day one than probably any other console maker ever has, Nintendo has made several gaffes. It's gratifying to see some problems already being fixed and to see functionality improving. It's nevertheless worrisome that some issues may be inherent to the machine, and it's disappointing to see that in cases like Wii backwards compatibility, Nintendo has delivered an experience that technically fulfills its promise but doesn't provide an ideal user experience.
The Wii U is no more shaky at launch than the PS3 or the 360. All these machines sputter at take-off before they soar. There's potential here. Let's hope there are no fatal flaws and that Nintendo prepares to be a proper pilot for the journey that many people have already spent a lot of money to be a part of.